After his Justin-Siena girls tennis program wrapped up its season with a 40th straight regular-season win Thursday, 7-0 over visiting American Canyon, head coach Jim Reilly was just impressed that the Braves went 12-0 in the Vine Valley Athletic League for the third season in a row.
It wasn’t easy going undefeated in the league this spring. Four of the wins were 4-3 nailbiters when the Braves were missing some starters due to other commitments, including the first meeting with American Canyon.
But that one was on the road. This one was on Senior Day with a lot of parents rooting on the Braves and five of their eight seniors on the court.
“That was very close,” American Canyon head coach Annie Monteleone said of her team’s March 9 loss to the Braves. “Today we had a lot of people who are out because we have spring break.”
Missing players was usually why the Braves had close matches. Reilly was impressed that they didn’t let the streak go to their heads.
“They just played each match at a time, and we reinforced that. It’s coach talk, but you play each point and results will happen,” he said. “We have an experienced team with eight seniors, and five out of the eight are top 10 (in the league).
“But everyone on this team contributed to a win this year in one sense or another. That’s what you want.”
Especially when No. 1 player Priyanka Shanker and No. 2 Bella Rampa were unavailable for one match, forcing the coaches to move players up the ladder.
“The other girls stepped up,” Reilly said. “We told them ‘We don’t have our 1 and 2, and that’s OK — go out there and play,’ and they did and we won. That’s big.”
At first singles Thursday, Shanker rolled 6-0, 6-0 over senior Lila Hawes. At No. 2, Rampa beat Ezrielle Llave 6-2, 6-1. At third singles, senior Ashlyn Mills prevailed over Dorothy Madrio, 6-1, 6-2, and at No. 4, Kendall Manasse downed senior Lauren Wheelhouse, 6-1, 6-2.
In doubles, seniors Cameron “Roses” Newell and Lucia Lanzafame won the No. 1 match over Emily Satake and Morgan Crowell, 6-0, 6-1. At second doubles, Gaya Hauck and Tatum Newell prevailed over Angela Acero and Nicole Rodriguez 6-0, 6-1 and at third doubles, seniors Ines Keller and Julia Best shut out Abbygail Alejandrino and Marlene Razo Diaz, 6-0, 6-0.
The Braves’ other seniors were Kate Bishop, Kathryn Nations and Alexandra Westfall.
If the sport is able to go back to the fall, Monteleone will bring back all but seniors Charlene Maglalang, Wheelhouse and Hawes in five months — and have more preparation than they did this spring.
“We were told at the last minute, ‘Hey, your season’s starting, so start practicing, so we didn’t have the (usual) month or two to train and do all of the drills like before, and we have a lot of freshmen,” Monteleone said. “I’m very proud of the girls. Every single year they surprise me and I think they feel like it’s another family on the court. They don’t mind wearing masks, even the singles players. It was just something new they had to work at because they love playing tennis.”
Lanzafame and Roses Newell, who along with Mills returned as captains for Justin-Siena, didn’t look at this season much differently than previous ones.
“I was going to play no matter what because tennis is not really a close-contact sport, so it’s pretty easy to play with COVID and everything,” Lanzafame said, “because you’re all the way across the court (from your opponent) and usually your partner, you know, they’re somewhat OK.”
“At the beginning of the season, they said that we weren’t allowed to have doubles,” Newell said of the VVAL, “and we were like ‘Oh no-o-o-o.’”
Chimed in Lanzafame, “And then right before the first match, they said ‘You can have doubles.’”
“We’re so far away from each other (on the court), it’s not even that big of a deal,” said Newell. “I had a good feeling we were going to play.”
They were asked if the pandemic-related restrictions affected their desire to play tennis. After all, COVID-19 delayed the season six months, forced Megha Jackson to sit out her junior season after she teamed with Rampa on the VVAL doubles title in 2019, required the Braves to wear masks throughout practices and matches except when they were playing a point, and took away their league and section tournaments.
But tennis was just the thing they needed, with or without a postseason.
“It’s still about trying to win each match,” Lanzafame said.
Added Newell, “League matches were all we had, so I think the streak made us a bit more motivated, not wanting to lose it. We weren’t at the last match against AC because we had a senior retreat that we were on and we were freaking out.”
American Canyon (7-4 VVAL) can tie Vintage (8-2 VVAL) for second place if Vintage falls at last-place Petaluma on Wednesday and the Wolves knock off the visiting Crushers next Thursday.
Reilly and assistant coach Jack Ring also coached the Justin-Siena boys team to a second-place record of 5-3 this spring. Because Reilly works early in the morning, he coached whatever boys or girls team was at home and Ring, who is retired, coached the traveling team.
The boys had only eight matches because American Canyon and Sonoma Valley didn’t field teams, so sometimes Reilly and Ring would coach the girls together. Judy Newell, aunt of Roses and Tatum, helps coach the doubles teams.
“They just came out with a positive attitude, the coaches were excited to be playing, and the players were excited to get out of the house,” Reilly said. “We didn’t have a lot of practices, but we knew what kind of team we had and these girls stepped it up. I hadn’t seen them in 15 months, but everybody was ready to play.”
They’re still ready to play, but the North Coast Section canceled postseason competition for all sports this school year months ago.
“It’s sad. We’re playing our best tennis now and we don’t get to go to the playoffs and compete against some of the other Division II schools.”
Our first goal is always to compete and see how the season goes, and being league champion is important to us and our school.”
WATCH NOW: JUSTIN-SIENA GIRLS TENNIS CAPTAINS LUCIA LANZAFAME AND ROSES NEWELL TALK ABOUT THEIR SENIOR SEASON
WATCH NOW: JUSTIN-SIENA’S ASHLYN MILLS BATTLES AMERICAN CANYON’S DOROTHY MADRIO AT NO. 3 SINGLES
WATCH NOW: JUSTIN-SIENA’S ROSES NEWELL AND LUCIA LANZAFAME PLAY NO. 1 DOUBLES AGAINST AMERICAN CANYON
WATCH NOW: JUSTIN-SIENA’S BELLA RAMPA PLAYS AT NO. 2 SINGLES AGAINST AMERICAN CANYON